Saturday, December 19, 2009

HAPPLY HOLIDAYS - Some LINKS you might enjoy !

My Xmas, Hanukkah & Solstice present to you ALL !!! Some of these sites are GREAT.... some merely interesting. Enjoy and happy reading over the holidays!!

Complications Ensue (Screenwriting) :

Urban Muse :

The Artful Writer (Screenwriting):

Quips & Tips:

Angela Booth:

Writers on the Rise:

What's it Like? (Screenwriting TV):

Renegade Writers:

Ken Levine (Screenwriting):

Words on the Page:

Tightrope Walker (Screenwriting TV):

Query Shark:

Nathan Bransford:

Janet Reid Lit Agent:


Kung Fu Monkey (Screenwriting Biz):

Jane Espenson (Screenwriting TV):


Inky Girl:

Write for your Life:

Writer Unboxed:

Scriptwriter's Network:

Screenwriting Goldmine:

Unknown Screenwriter Blog:

Websites for Writers:

Cinema Autopsy:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I know I should really go over my script for typos and grammar and junk - but I hate that stuff!

(IF YOU HAVEN'T BECOME A FAN AT .....facebook - SIGN UP FOR A BRAND NEW SERIES OF Writers Tips & Clips..... discussions at )

I soooo totally know what you mean. This is not my strong suit either! I mean, I love talking structure and plot and character; but when it comes to what I call 'housekeeping', I cringe!

I suppose this is as good a time as any to let people know that I draw the line at that kind of stuff in my critiques too. I won't check it for you - and I certainly won't detail it in my reports. I 'story edit' not copy or text edit. Big difference! Although, if it's really bad I will advise you to consult a grammar or punctuation guide.

Fortunately for us, there are people who actually groove on this kind of thing. I have a dear friend who LOVES it (go figure!). She really takes delight in helping people figure out the exact phrasing and punctuation to make their story shine. A good copy EDITOR is worth every penny you spend. So if this is not your first love - get someone on your team who relishes it!

That's because as much as you and I really dislike having to do this stuff; it's IMPORTANT. Not doing it can really harm the overall first impression of your script. And you know what they say - 'You only get one chance to make a first impression.'

Producers are generally really busy people; but they DO want to find a GREAT SCRIPT. But like most of us, they won't wade through poor formatting, or stupid grammatical errors to find the story. IF you don't care enough to shine the shoes on your project - how can you expect them to care enough to read it? For a busy producer, a script littered with bad grammar, poor syntax and misspellings is usually only worth the trouble to recycle it.

Don't give them that reason when it is so easy (relatively speaking) to rob them of that excuse to toss your script. DO your HOUSEKEEPING. It makes you look professional, and caring and SMART! And in the end, it doesn't really matter if you hired someone else to do it. You were smart enough to do THAT and caring enough to do it too!

I hope this helps. I wish you luck with your screenwriting. And I really look forward to really your perfectly formatted and beautifully spelled script!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How do I make a character, who’s kind of reclusive, show his emotions?

Writing really is the study of human beings and how they express 
themselves. Every opportunity you can - EXAMINE (like a being from 
another world) how the humans that surround you express the vast array 
of emotions that color our daily lives.

You’re right, some people are withheld - 
the merest lift of an eyebrow says volumes about what's going on in 
their heads. Other are like fireworks displays - about everything; 
love, hate, happiness, boredom it all gets colored with some 
incredible display of emotion. The films that affect us the most are 
the films where the writer has created a VISUAL language that relays 
even the tiniest detail of a characters INNER landscape (emotional 
landscape) to us, the audience.

So, give some thought to the multitude of NON VERBAL bits of 
communication that are peppered throughout your day... your child 
opens it's arms wide for a hug when you come home; but doesn't SAY 
anything. Your boss merely crooks a finger in your direction and 
disappears into her office. You know you've been summoned. At a chai 
shop, a handsome fellow merely meets your eyes over the lip of his 
cup, which mostly hides his smile of acknowledgment... you TELL ME 
what that means!!

Start cataloging in your mind the various ways people SHOW 
us every day what they're thinking.... instead of using words. Do this for a 
month and you will be on your way to understanding one of the key 
elements of screenwriting. Show - don't TELL what the characters are 

I hope this helps. I do wish you luck with your screenplay . Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

How do I protect myself and my script once it’s written!

First know, you can only take 'precautions' against piracy & creative 
theft - especially now that we live and WRITE in the world of the 
internet. But here are some precautions you can take.... particularly regarding 

1) REGISTER your screenplay as soon as it's completed. WGA (writer's 
guild America is recognized world-wide, can be done in 10 minutes via 
the internet). There is a list on my website ( ) LINKS section to find others around the world. 

2) ALWAYS sign your work. You would be surprised how many scripts I 
receive for critiques that DO NOT have the writers name on every page 
(in the header at the top alongside the title and just before the page 
#). You may have to remove this for competitions.... but in every other case - SIGN YOUR WORK.

3) NEVER transmit a file in anything other than an unalterable PDF or 
similar incorruptible file.

4) SEND files to people you know via reputation or, if they are friends, make sure they understand they should request permission before 
forwarding the file elsewhere. 

5) Don't write OVER your old drafts of a screenplay - but create a 
new numbered 'version' each time you do a rewrite to ensure you have a 
traceable chain of creation. (draft #1, draft #2, draft #3..... DO NOT 
send out scripts with the draft #'s on them; but keep the files on 
your computer for proof)

And know, too - that like seat belts in an automobile - these can't 
prevent a big, serious accident; but can help minimize problems with 
little fender-benders. Creative theft is really hard to prove; make 
sure you do all you can to minimize the possibility from your end and 
keep writing. Don't pin all your hopes and dreams on one single piece 
of writing. The more you have in your writing portfolio; the less it 
will hurt if one thing goes astray.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your screenplay . Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I just finished my first screenplay and am going to start looking for an agent. Do you have any advice?

Congratulations on completing your script. So few people finish, you should be proud! Make sure you register it with an internationally recognized body and good luck with the next step. Getting your work noticed by a producer with a track record can be tough. New writers inhabit a 'no-man's land' of needing a track record to get an agent; but not having a track record to attract an agent in order to submit to a producer. Yikes!

Agents for the most part work on commission; and they work darn hard, too I might add. And an agent who has been in the business long enough to be useful, has a vast network of connections that rival many producers or lawyers. They've spent years building their reputations and connections, not to mention the money it's taken. Often their return on any contract is a meager 10% to offset the effort it's taken to create this infrastructure and the daily expenses that go with it. It's not cheap to live in Hollywood; nor to employ people there either.

So, I ask you (just as they are probably asking themselves) - What's in it, for them? What can you give them in return for the vast amount of time and energy they've already put on the table by simply taking your call? The thrill an agent gets in making a really talented discovery probably won't pay many bills for years to come. What's an aspiring screenwriter to do?

First of all, polish the script that you have. Every scene needs to be solid as a house and ring with the truth of conviction. Second, start ANOTHER SCREENPLAY. No artist approaches a gallery for a show with ONE painting. In your writing portfolio you should have a variety of scripts that show the breadth of your talent; various genres, various characters and all bright as new pennies. And third, enter competitions. Do some of the agent's work for them... get your name out there!

But be smart about what you enter; you can spend a small fortune there are so many competitions now. Pick several that offer significant prizes (Final Draft, Disney) or recognition (Nicholls, or big Film Festival) or both. And then enter a number of smaller competitions too - where the odds aren't so tough. A win in Topeka still prints out FIRST PLACE on your script resume.

And finally, KEEP WRITING. Don't let yourself fall prey to discouragement! Keep writing and perfecting your craft; keep hoping and keep marketing yourself and your writing so one day an agent will pick up the phone with enthusiasm when you call.

I hope this helps. I wish you every luck with your screenplay and would love to read what's next!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I read this all the time: a screenwriter should SHOW not TELL a story - but what does it really mean?

Next to 'write what you know' SHOW don't TELL is one of the oldest pieces of advice in screenwriting; and rightly so! A Screenplay is the text basis for what will become a visual final product. It's that eventual translation to film that makes screenwriting so tricky and yet so interesting too. IF it were only going to remain as words - it would be a novel or short story.

So the first thing you need to do is figure out what your character is feeling in every single scene that you write. And then you need to figure out an action - that is true to your character - that SHOWS or demonstrates or telegraphs that feeling. This can sometimes be hard! Let's try one simple, basic emotion as an example and see what happens.

Anger is one of our most basic human emotions, but everyone presents or displays their anger in different ways. One character might blow up, lose their cool, or even clobber someone in anger. This is very straightforward mechanism for SHOWING a character's anger response in a situation.

Now, what if instead of blowing up when provoked to anger - you create a character that cries as a response. How does that change our understanding of WHO your character is? Does it make your character more childlike in our eyes; or more female perhaps? Does it change our understanding of the quality or depth of their anger?

Are you starting to get the picture as a writer. The basic emotion your character feels in every scene is conveyed to the audience through an action. That is how we read what is going on inside your characters heart & mind. You can radically influence our perception of your character by choosing an action different than what's expected or normal as a response.

And then, to add to the mix.... an actor will read the part you've written and add their own interpretation to it. Perhaps the actor decides that the character then gets the SHAKES after a really tumultuous experience and that will color our perception of the character's inner emotions too. It certainly adds a new dimension to what we've written and expands the VISUAL language of the character on film.

I hope this helps. I wish you luck with your writing.... and would love to read your work when you've finished a draft.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A buddy and I took a writing class - and while he just kind of plowed through his first draft I got kind of side-lined fixing stuff. Is this wrong?

Writing really is one of the strangest undertakings. We are seduced by a story idea in our head and practically driven crazy until we succumb and begin the process of putting it on the page.

And then, the real torture begins. We manage to write a scene or two, or even a whole first act; and then, inevitably we begin to second guess ourselves. As we soldier through the next tough scene sequence a little voice begins to speak over the one in our head telling us the story. 'The main characters name isn't strong enough - you should FIX that. The villain isn't evil enough; the opening scene isn't FRESH enough. The scene transitions'.... well, you get the idea!

Some of this self-commentary may actually be quite accurate. Your main character does have a putzy name, at the moment. And maybe those scene transitions do really suck. But guess what, we don't care - NOT RIGHT NOW. Your only job in the FIRST DRAFT IS TO FINISH! Repeat this to yourself, over and over and over again when your inner critic dares to speak. Resist the temptation to go back and just KEEP MOVING FORWARD; that's the only way to finish your first draft.

On the other hand, don't lock up that inner critic and throw away the key. Just throw him/or her a bone to keep her quiet. One of the best gimmicks that I've discovered is keeping a notebook and pen next to your computer and every time that critic SPEAKS - write it down!` Voila, your inner critic feels 'heard' and so deigns to leave you alone so you can write. AND, bonus time, by the time you have a first draft done you also have a dandy blueprint for your first REwrite waiting for you as soon as you type THE END.

I hope this helps. And I wish you lots of luck on your screenplay. Let me know when you've finished. I'd love to see your work!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Writing and especially SCREENWRITING is all about making choices.

CHAPTER ONE of the Screenwriting Essentials online tutorial & workbook discuss STORY CONCEPT and idea.

From the very first IMAGE you see on the screen you are telling your audience what to expect in this visual journey they are about to embark upon. I always say that writing is about choices and your choices for telling your movie start with that very first image.

Every artist faces this decision making process, whether it's an oil painter, a photographer or YOU, the screenwriter. Visually speaking, you compose each scene - you choose the location (what does IT say to your viewer). You choose the apparel (to some extent) of your characters - ie are they goth, business, glam or a slouch? You choose ALL the words they speak. What is going on beneath the words they actually say? Are they saying "I love you" while they batter each other with trash from a garbage can?

Now that doesn't mean that you become a 'control freak' as a writer. You leave many, many choice to the director and the actors and the set designer and the locations manager. BUT, when it's IMPORTANT to our understanding of the story or the emotional landscape of the heroine/hero you put the DETAILS in your script. You CHOOSE the words that make it clear.

There is a power and a responsibility in every story choice you make as a writer. With proper planning - you can learn to revel in the choosing - not be frozen in place - unable to act or stymied with indecision.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your new screenplay. Let me know when you've completed your script. I'd love to read your work!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I often see movies that have more than one writer. How does this work?

This is a really good question and like most things in the movie business, the answer is really situational; dependent on WHY those extra writers were brought in to work on a script. These are only some of the examples.

1) A producer (the money person) has a story idea - but he/she is not a writer. So one writer, or several, are approached to create the screenplay. In the film credits this is usually phrased by STORY BY: xyz person SCREENPLAY BY: abc person/s.

2) A writer (you or me) creates a 'spec' or 'indie' script... one that has no actor or directors attached (the talent); but is created merely because the writer thought it was a good idea and thought the screenplay might sell. A producer (the money guy) or name director reads the script and really likes it EXCEPT for xyz... whatever reason. So they contract with the writer (through an agent and or lawyer) to buy, or at least option, the script. The initial writer agrees to the changes and the deal is a 'go'.

But in the process of trying to find the perfect director or name actor to sign onto the script - more changes are suggested to the writer. This time the writer decides the changes will really compromise her initial concept/theme/idea. For whatever reason, she refuses to make the changes the producer suggests. Let's be clear, once you sign a contract - the producer owns your script. He is legally able to find another writer to MAKE the story changes no matter what you think. Hence the 2nd name in the credits.

3) Or, on the road to finding the perfect blend of story/producer/director and actor - the script goes through many, many rewrites; ideally these are done by the original writer. But sometimes another writer, who has an established expertise, (dialogue for instance) will be called in to FRESHEN the script or give it a skew to a particular actor's talents. (think Schwartzeneger's 'Ill be BACK' line). Often these collaborations between writers are quite amiable... most writers are fully aware of the limits to the skills they bring to the table.

There are many, many other situations where a whole stable of writers take turns polishing a script for various complex reasons. Film making is a collaborative art, and your original screenplay is often only a springboard for other creative talents that will combine to bring your script to the big screen. You really need to be able to stand back and let that happen. AND never sign a deal or contract without the advice of a really good agent or film lawyer who will protect your rights in the eventuality of any of the above creative writing situations.

I hope this helps. And good luck in your writing. I'd love to read your work!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Why should I take a screenwriting course? My dad says, 'If you can talk you can write!'

You're dad's almost right! I say that very thing fairly often. The biggest difference between talkers and WRITERS; especially screenwriters, is whether you actually possess the determination to STOP talking and start writing.

I assure you all - we, as homo sapiens, KNOW how stories work! We've been telling each other stories for 60,000 or 70,000 years. If you look at the cave art in places like Chauvet - that was ancient people trying to VISUALIZE for their audience the thrilling wild animal hunt that they took part in or just witnessed.... or something like that. We are still doing that today with motion pictures; trying to bring our audience into the world of the hunt - and other stuff.

What writing courses or seminars can do is give you a language or terminology for telling stories. It's hard to talk to someone else about writing unless you have a common language - so classes can provide some formal names for different portions of story craft. Like protagonist, or hero/heroine - 3 Act Structure for beginning, middle and end - or inciting incident or montage. The terms that help us talk to other writers about what we're trying to do in our particular story.

The other thing a formal writing class can do for you is help you organize what you already know from years of telling your own stories to friends, classmates and acquaintances. So classes can GIVE you terminology for what you do. And the can help you SEE the inherent structure in the stories you've been telling.

And FINALLY, organized writing classes can help put you in your seat in front of the computer and actually push you to put your ideas on the page. Classes aren't for everyone; but they can provide some useful tools to starting the journey or even stoke the fire (if yours is sputtering out) for getting those story ideas onto the page when you're not sure of how to pursue your goals for writing.

And in a shameless act of SELF PROMOTION I'd like to call attention to the fact that I've JUST LAUNCHED my own ONLINE SCREENWRITING COURSE. Wordsmythe Screenwriting Essentials can really help get you started.... check out my website at today!!

And this is the last time I'll do this type of AD for a long, long, long time. I promise!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I don't know how many screenplays I've started; but can't ever get to the words 'The End.' HELP!

Writing screenplays is one of the easiest jobs you'll ever do; and one of the HARDEST. It's easy, because you get fired up by this fantastic idea that you know will be killer on the screen, and that enthusiasm makes you just jump right in and start typing.

And screenwriting's hard because you run out of that 'start up' energy often long before you get to those famous words - The End. That 'sticking point' is the exact spot where real writers show their mettle; or true grit. But they don't survive on pure grit alone; real writers have a whole arsenal of tricks up their sleeves. The most important tool they use is PLANNING.

Sounds kind of mundane, doesn't it? Planning - kind of like birth control. Can't we just 'be' in the moment and jump into this thing, honey? WE CAN.... and many do. But I don't any more, after many, many late nights spent staring at the computer screen and a script that I had loved six months before and now loathed because I couldn't seem to tinker away all it's flaws. Screenwriting has taught me patience and the ability to control that 'start up' enthusiasm.

I urge all of my students to create a number of tools while the novelty of their movie idea still has them panting to write. It's then, when you're desperate to get at your computer and really type, that you really should rein in your excitement about writing and answer some really important questions.

Like: Who's your main character? What is it they want? What gets in the way of them acquiring it or achieving their goal? How badly do they want what they seek? Who are the important people in their life and how do those relationships complicate their quest? Take these questions and create a logline, a 5 page treatment and a working title and you're on your way. Throw in the opening and closing scenes for each of the 3 acts and you should be ready for nearly any thing!

Once you've got this material firmly in hand, you're ready to unleash the creative hounds and hit the keyboard running. With planning, and careful conservation of that 'start up' energy you may find yourself at 'The End' before you know it!

I hope this helps. I wish you luck with your screenplay. And let me know when you finish it; I'd love to read your work!

Friday, July 3, 2009

I always mean to sit down and write; but my girlfriend kind of resents the time I spend doodling on the computer.

Relationships are tricky at the best of times... and I definitely don't want to get into a "Dear Abby" advice column here. But it is possible to participate in a meaningful relationship and still write. The key is careful apportioning of your time.

First of all, ARE you doodling on the computer or are you actually sitting and writing? This is an important distinction as much for your girlfriend's peace of mind as your own, as a writer. Everyone has days or nights when stuff just doesn't flow. But at the same time, IF you did thorough planning prior to beginning to write you should know what needs to be done each and every time you sit down to write. AND, you should do it.

What you write on those nights may be crap. Crap happens. At the same time, it is NOT our job to judge as we write. OUR ONLY JOB, in the first draft, IS TO FINISH. Ask your girlfriend (or boyfriend) to embroider that for you as a wall hanging. That IS your only job this time around; to finish this draft.

The other thing you should DO is make a commitment to writing; to WRITING TIME. Screenplays don't write themselves. So book an appointment with yourself - and take it as seriously as if it were the big ticket opportunity you hope your screenwriting may become some day. Take it seriously now, to BE taken seriously later.

And your girlfriend? Well, you might try engaging her in the process. Try READING some of your work to her; get her involved. Be careful though.... she may start canceling dates if she likes what you're writing in order to keep your nose to the grindstone. Involving loved ones in our quest can become a double-edged sword.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you've completed your script. I'd love to read your work!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recently I participated in a 'COLD READING' night and then my script was critiqued by a panel of judges...

The overall verdict was that I was a smart writer and the script had real promise but no 'heart'. What does that mean?

First of all, congratulations are in order! #1 - You finished a script. #2 - You risked submitting it to a 'cold read.' Wow, that's fabulous. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a 'cold read' is a gathering where a group of actors meet, are handed a script and within about 30 minutes are acting it out. Often it's just the opening act of a feature length screenplay that's read. And it's one of the scariest and most exhilarating rides on the planet. Hearing your words come out of an actor's mouth is one of the BEST WAYS to gauge the effectiveness of your dialogue and pacing of your writing.

And as you found out, a cold reading can also reveal some of the weaknesses of your script that might have slipped by some of your other critiques. From the comments you received it sounds as if you might have been shanghaied by the LEFT side of your brain while you were writing. As many of you know, who follow this screenwriting blog, I believe any really good story (but especially screenplays) are a balancing act between RIGHT brain creativity and LEFT brain structure.

Really well plotted thrillers and heist movies delight us with the mastery of the turns and twists of their plot (left brain). But if they contain heart-wrenching scenes of loss and betrayal - those deeply rooted emotions come from the right brain. Right brain function is all about universality. Check out Jill Bolte Taylor's fabulous and passionate TED talk
which gives a beautiful & passionate explanation of the relationship between the TWO brain hemispheres and the impact on us as individuals.

What's probably missing in your script is that moment (s) where the camera focuses on the hero/heroine and we get to SEE their pain/reaction/ emotional response to whatever is happening to them. We need emotional connection to the main character to actually care enough to plow through the next two hours of their life with them. EARLY on in your script give us an emotional LINK to your heroine/hero and then reinforce the connection periodically throughout the film. Those EMOTIONAL ties will keep us cheering your character through to the bitter or sweet finale of the film.

I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your screenplay. Let me know when you've completed the rewrite.... I'd love to read your work!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are ADAPTATIONS easier than regular screenplays? I found a FANTASTIC BOOK in a bargain bin; and want to write a screenplay from it.

Adaptations are to screenplays as unicycles are to bicycling.  The vehicles have similar characteristics, but it also takes a rare set of skills to master the unicycle with any panache. Ditto adaptations.  A couple of great adaptations that you might READ and then watch is The Hours (Michael Cunningham) and  Wit  (Emma Thompson adapted from a play).

Here's some quick pros & cons concerning adaptations.  PRO:  You don't have to make up the story - it's ALL there.  CON: In fact, that's the rub with adaptations, especially from novels. There's often TOO MUCH story.  Novels sprawl, like Mexico City, they take up and infinite amount of space, just because they can.  Especially some of the genre novels, like family sagas or historical fiction (Ken Follet - World Without End almost was).  It's practically genetic that these babies clock in at 500 pages or more.  Whereas, screenplays are more like Venice; self-contained and restricted to a very particular area because of limitations put on their size.

PRO:  Producers often like the idea of adaptations because they feel the book or comic book brings with it an automatic audience and it's popularity is a harbinger for the film's eventual success.  CON:  If yo loved the book and thought it would make a great screenplay - there's a chance other screenwriters thought so too.  If you're talking about a best seller; the rights will NOT be easy.  Some agent is going to want some serious coinage for the rights to a best seller or even a mediocre seller if it comes from a big publisher.

What about the rights? Well, I always advise, WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE.  So if you are deeply, deeply smitten; then break down the story, make your story choices and start writing.  I also always say 'No writing experience is ever wasted.'  At least yo will learn just how challenging in it's own way an adaptation can be for a screenwriter.  At the very least, by the end of it, you'll have a 'spec'  adaptation for your writing portfolio.  But beware, on the way to completion if you fall madly, madly in love with the script and cannot live unless you acquire the rights to your bestseller - here's hoping you win the lotto.  Because without the rights, no producer will probably touch it.

I hope that helps.  And I do wish you luck with your adaptation - let me know when the screenplay is completed.  I'd love to read your work!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Older writers are always telling new ones -WRITE what you know.... what the heck does that mean?

Write what you know is probably the oldest piece of advice there is for aspiring writers.  But just because it's old doesn't mean it's bad.... or necessarily good.  Here's my take on what it means.

Writing what you know doesn't mean that if you janitor at night to pay the bills while you learn the craft of writing...  you only ever get to write about janitors.  What I do believe 'writing what you know' refers to is emotional honesty.

Screenplays are driven by the ups and downs of the main character's quest.  The ups and downs refers to both the storyline (action) but the heroine/heroes emotions too.  And this is where many new writers come up short.  They often side-step tackling the really big emotions.  Oh sure, we see death scenes, sex scenes, pillage scenes, car chases - but what we don't see is REAL, GENUINE gut-wrenching emotions that arise from these events.

Often, the new writer doesn't show us the 'fallout' from these events in our hero's life - when its exactly that exploration of emotional subtext to events that makes film REAL to us the audience. It's that bond of shared emotional experience that connects us to the quest of the hero/heroine in the end.  So, 'write what you know' means writing from a place of emotional honesty.  Either take the risk to write from your very own place of emotional experience or take the time to really understand and empathize with someone who has lived the experience you are going to write about.

LIVE it, (the emotion) and FEEL it, if you're hope to write it and ultimately convince your audience to believe it... and then WRITE it; put that emotion on the page.  We all have a 6th sense concerning emotional honesty.... discover yours, and write from THAT place for compelling screenplays.  That's my take on what the phrase - write what you know - is really advocating to new writers.

I hope this helps.  And I wish you luck with your screenplay - and hey, let me know when you've completed it. I'd love to read your work! 

Friday, May 1, 2009

I really want to write a HISTORICAL DRAMA; but the guys on my internet chat group say I'm nuts!! It will never sell.

First thing I tell all my students in this business; BE CAREFUL who you believe.  Especially where your writing in concerned.  As far as your chat group - I guess these guys never saw the films 'Amadeus, Gladiator, Brave Heart or Shakespeare in Love'.  All of these were major box office (and critical) hits and by the way, HISTORICAL DRAMAS.

That said, the writers of these screenplays did beat the odds though, or the prejudice if you will, against historical pieces.  Producers are the people who find the money to actually shoot the movie of your screenplay.  And good producers are smart, film savvy and TIGHT; that's how you get bankrolled to shoot another film... paying attention to the bottom line.

The reason that period pieces or historical films put feat into the hearts of most producers is you can't just walk out the door and start shooting.  You have to have period specific costumes (ka-ching) and all kinds of specialty coaching for your actors (sword play, accents, horse riding (ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching).  And all of this happens BEFORE you ever shoot a foot of film.  Little wonder the mere mention of a historical script sends most producers screaming from the room.

But back to the opening paragraph and those fantastic period piece films which all won rave reviews too - I might add. The one thing they all had in common was FANTASTIC scripts. Fantastic scripts make believers out of top tier actors, who are craving a part to really challenge them .  And top tier actors make believers out of tight-fisted producers and distributors.

So my advice to you, and any writer, is to ALWAYS write what you LOVE.  Write your period piece screenplay to the absolute best of your ability.  Create a main character that every actress on the planet would kill to play.  Create a storyline and theme that is TIMELESS, and your audience won't give hoot that your lead actor is wearing a codpiece!

I hope this helps.  And I do wish you luck with your screenplay - and let me know when you've completed your script.  I'd love to read your work!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Everyone talks about the 3 act structure; but I want to create something completely different than the same old movies we see every day.

That desire to create something different is going to serve you well in the writing process; hang on to that!

But first, let's consider a couple of questions before we get to the heart of your question.  WHO is your intended audience for this film?  Are you thinking your script might be an 'art house' piece?  Maybe you're planning something experimental.  NO, you're hoping for that mega-blockbuster at the local movie theater? You need to rethink your prejudice against 3 act structure.  The closer you get to mainstream in intent - the more thoroughly your script should be grounded in 3 acts; beginning, middle and end (or resolution).

Next, let's look at your bias against the 3 act structure. It IS true that some really terrible movies have been created within the context of this format.  But WOW, what about all the really inventive films that have also adhered to it?  Films like Shakespeare in Love, Being John Malkovich, Juno, The Fall and American Beauty were all firmly grounded in the 3 act structure.  What gives?

Many beginning screenwriters lay some really BAD MOVIES at the feet of the 3 act structure.  But writing screenplays is a lot like writing sonnets  (you know Shakespeare- iambic pentameter) in that it's a strict format that can produce some absolutely timeless writing. For instance, Shakespeare's 'Shall I compare Thee to a Summer Day?'.  Or... the really horrible sonnet I wrote in my sophomore English Lit class.

Great sonnets, like great screenplays, challenge the writer to search for a completely fresh aspect on a timeless theme and then tests their inventiveness in pouring their story idea into a jug of very specific proportions.  The bad movies you've seen aren't a result of the 3 act structure; but a result of the lack of skill or persistence on the part of the writer!

I hope this helps.  And I do wish you luck with your screenplay - and let me know when you've finished it. I'd love to read your work.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I've Got a GREAT Idea for a Movie but Don't Know How to Start

And it's no wonder; we see the end result of screenplays all the time on TV, at the movie theatre and when we rent a DVD, but very few people have actually READ a screenplay.  And frankly that is where every aspiring screenwriter should begin - by reading.

The easiest way to go about this is  to visit a website like or and download the scripts for a couple of mainstream movies. Then, read them from cover to cover.

Now visit your local video store and  rent the DVD of the scripts you just read.  With script in hand, put the disc in to play and STUDY at the very least, the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film.  Actively compare it to the script. Pay particular attention to the opening image that sets the story in motion or signals ground zero for the hero's story line.

The next thing you should really examine is the way the script moves the action from scene to scene.  NOTICE on the page the 'slug lines' (INT: APARTMENT - DAY) and the often brief descriptive text that follows.  Pay attention to the DIALOGUE both as it's written; but also, how it's delivered by the actors.  And finally pay attention to the PACING - how quickly the film & script move the action along as they 'set up' the story and the main character's quest.

The more screenplays you read, the more comfortable you will find yourself with the strict formatting required by the film industry, once you sit down to put your own great idea onto the page.

Good luck with it - and let me know when you've completed your script.  I'd love to read your work.